August 18 Pre-Departure Journal
It still hasn't hit me yet. Honestly, I never thought a small town island girl like me would even visit Europe, let alone live there for almost a year.
I've made slow but steady preparations towards leaving. I've acquired a basic understanding of my target language, communicated with my host mother on a regular basis, and attempted the annoying task of packing for, literally, the unknown.
Do you have any idea how brain-wracking it is to pack for weather you thought you'd never have to experience? It's awesome though! For months I've daydreamed of what living in France would be like; tightly bundled in heavy clothing for months at a time, absorbing the gorgeous atmosphere and meeting countless of people with a faint but sweet smile plastered on my lips. I've even made up an affectionate nickname for my temporary home, 'mon glacer le monde' (my ice world).
I'm only nervous about getting on that plane for hours on end. I haven't had much experience with flying and it's a major fear of mine. But that's a minuscule obstacle compared to what I will be faced with once I arrive in France.
This journey is happening at the most crucial time of my life. Unlike the majority of my fellow outbounds, I won't necessarily blend back into the life I once lived. I'm finished with high school, and I'd be 18 soon to be a 19 year old with a blurry future and plan. I'm hoping that this journey will be an epiphany as to what I can do with my life, what I'm capable of.
This morning I suddenly burst into tears at the thought of leaving my little sister! A whole year without her! She's only 2 years younger than I am and she's the closest person I have when a domestic environment is concerned, so the lack of a sisterly figure while away is something I'll have to get used to.
I'm excited to leave though, the idea of being away from home for a long period of time is frightening and invigorating at the same time. Even now I'm appreciating my country more. I've taken the beaches, the food, the culture all for granted. My body warms every time I listen to 'Hometown Glory' by Adele. And ironically, I'll miss complaining about the ridiculous weather.
I can't wait to cry, to love, to miss, and to feel. Most importantly, learn and grow.
"If living is seeing
I'm holding my breath
In wonder, I wonder
What happens next?
A new world
A new day to see"
August 28 Journal
I am now experiencing what I'd like to call "The Helen Keller Syndrome." I'm rendered helpless, much worse than a young child because they at least grasp the basic understanding of their surroundings. I cannot. I cannot speak very well, so I am 'dumb’. I cannot understand much either, so I am 'deaf'. My reading is better than the rest but is very limited, so 'blind'. People are here to help but it feels like I'm 'trapped in a dark room with no windows or doors.'
Not that it's a bad thing. I'm not depressed at all. The mental preparation for this new life of mine has been quick to grasp, though I must admit my true personality is nowhere near this place. I'm more disoriented than ever. I'm losing track of the days, the time. It's been over 48 hours and time seems to drag on. Which I hope it does. The aura here is spectacular.
I also must remember not to be so distracted by my thoughts, I believe my host mother worries a little. It's just now I realize I'm actually here after all those months of waiting. I think it's finally hit me now. I am on the other side of the world now, so family and friends I haven't kept in much contact with, which I'm also taking oddly well (so far). I'm in awe at the fact that I'm out and about while they're fast asleep, and vice versa. I want to compare skies at the same time, just to be sure that we're both living on the same planet.
Everything's so petite and semi-formal. I love it. It's sophisticated and beautiful. My camera hardly stays in my bag. I wish you all could see what I see.
My birthday's tomorrow. My family and I will visit Lille and have dinner there. It's all so amazing. I could cry.
Until next month I suppose, or until I can't hold in the immense joy in my little body anymore; whichever comes first.
September 25 Journal
I avert my traveler's eye to the sky
Because my happiness dwells there
Never below where these strangers walk
But I am the stranger.
The words I wish to say I cannot
My traveler's eye is dry now but
My mouth is numb
Numb because of this ordeal
These alien sounds, I cannot form
These sounds, I try my best to comprehend
I, myself am often misunderstood and cast aside
Where is my happiness?
Nevertheless the love for this place burns bright
I'd never leave but I wish,
I wish you were here, cherie
All of you.
My heart aches to fit into this new puzzle.
Am I too small?
Am I too big?
The days have turned to weeks
And now a month has passed.
Where do I stand?
Je deteste il
I'm lost in it all.
"I turn my head to the east
I don't see nobody by my side
I turn my head to the west
still nobody in sight
So I turn my head to the north,
swallow that pill
that they call pride
The old me is dead and gone,
the new me will be alright"
October 9 Journal
Everyone must forgive me for the enigmatic journal I left a few days ago. I wrote it in the wrong place at the wrong time (French class and in a melancholy mood). Now I will explain as best as I possibly can what's really been going on.
My French has in fact gotten better without me realizing it. I'm still fumbling for words that are literally sitting on my lips but it's a vast improvement since my arrival. Unfortunately I still cannot have much of an easy flowing conversation; I merely nod and smile and appear completely absorbed in what the natives are saying.
School is murderously tedious and has often put me in that passive mood. Not so positive. But there has been someone who's been consistent in their efforts to talk to me and I applaud him for that. Every once in a while there's a new face but for the moment I'm pretty often by myself or with other exchange students. It's not the position I want to be in but unfortunately that's just how it is.
Funny Fact: The French can't say 'squirrel'. That has got to be the best discovery since I got here.
It's getting colder and I'm incredibly uncomfortable most of the time but I really do adore the weather. The mysticism of the seasons are more obvious here than at home (where the trees are green all year round). I've never seen a proper 'autumn' before now and it blows me away.
My host family is wonderful. They're very sociable and we often visit people for conversation and drinks. My host mother is motherly in every sense of the word. She's a housewife so she's naturally nurturing. My host father speaks no English; which is perfect. I try my best to be legit with him; he's humorous and often puts me at ease. My two brothers, though I haven't have the heart to talk to them as much as I'd like to, I feel a deep love for. Samuel, in his youthful glory, with the palest skin I could ever imagine and the bluest eyes I've ever seen. The little brother I've always longed to have and the face poets wrote about. And Thibault, literally an older version of Samuel, impresses me in ways I've never believed. Oddly I love them both already, and the thought of leaving them both one day burns a whole in my chest.
The food is either hit or miss for me. I'm polite to try everything they give me, but some things I can't help but crinkle my nose at (e.g. the cheese.) Some of the cheese are surprisingly good but. Wow. That's all I can say.
I admire this lifestyle where it enables teenagers to become independent. The buses, the metros, the trains I have access to. Wednesdays are now a regular outing with the Rotary students. I feel as if I'm more at ease when I'm with them (wonder why).
I have a long way to go, yet I already feel a sense of accomplishment. I'm honestly content. Thank you Rotary.
"Some people think they're always right
Others are quiet and uptight
Others they seem so very nice, nice, nice, nice, nice, nice...
Inside they might feel sad and wrong."
Joyeux Noël à tous!
Ouais c'est moi encore.
I'm in fact in Belgium for Christmas. Look at me, getting the best of both worlds :) I'm staying by my counselor's for the holidays until I change for my second host family (who is actually the sister of my counselor's so everyone thought it'd be a good idea)
I've seen a wonderful phenomenon; snow. Unfortunately it all decided to disappear right in time for Christmas (wow I feel like my English is in the worst condition ever).
How's my language coming along? Only awesome. Everyone always doubts that they wont drastically improve by Christmas but trust me everyone does. Even if you decide not to make much effort. (But make the effort please you feel all the more accomplished) Of course there's still soo much to learn.
Anyway so far the friends that I've made I only speak in French to with not too many problems. School is still a bit of a migraine because I haven't mastered the language in it's entirety.
Care packages from my parents will never cease to put a smile on my face. I got a Bahamian shirt a few weeks ago. I wanna savor it for a special day.
The cold really doesn't bother me at all! I mean if there isn't any wind of course. Then it's just hooorriiid. I'm anxious to buy more warm things. But what in the world will I do with all of it when it's time to go home? I live in the Bahamas for heaven's sake.
Christmas was actually a pretty chill day. The Belgians/French like to party BEFORE Christmas. The actually day seems to be just for relaxing by the fire or watching a movie. In fact I did see a movie. We went to the cinema (my counselor's family and I) to watch Avatar. But this journal isn't about the movie so I wont go into detail. I'll be honest I only understood 45% but the whole storyline is uber complex so I didn't stress about it.
Afterwards we drove to Lille, France intending on munching on some nice cold sushi but ended up eating at an Indian restaurant instead. I won't lie I was a bit bummed by the whole setup of the day because it's not what I'm used to. But that's expected right?
I never expected Christmas with much excitement, because it always turned out how I expected. So it was this uniformed kind of ceremony I've grown up with for all my life. And for it to suddenly be not what it's always been. I definitely treasure the season. I looked at the kids of the family tearing open their gifts the day before Christmas (which is also regular to see) surrounded with family. I saw the genuine joy on their faces and that was enough for me. I miss my family I do but seeing someone else's happiness put me in a very warm place
There's another party; tomorrow in fact. For what I'm not sure. Après Noël Fête? Maybe. It'll be sweet as these family get togethers always are.
And the New Year approaches. Not exactly sure what my resolutions are yet, but I'm expecting a different person to emerge from all my rough edges. A good person. Better yet, a well rounded person.
"Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams all made real"
-Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel
February 2 Journal
Salut Saluut <3
Let's go back to the beginning. New Year's Day/night I was in the countryside of France; very peaceful place. I spent it with the former president of my Rotary club and his family. The most exciting thing I will never forget is feeding the sheep :) Not exactly sure if they belonged to my president's or what, but it was a sweet experience. New Year's evening I didn't go anywhere, for his daughter was throwing a little party in the other end of their house. I used to be in church for New Year's. While this was a nice change it made me miss MY friends terribly. I remember floating around the place making small talk with a few people, and that was GREAT I think. Just knowing if my 3 best friends were there it would have been the most amazing night. But I enjoyed it. Shortly after midnight I made an update to my Facebook saying I'm in the New Year..6 hours ahead and I suddenly felt relieved. I silently thanked God for allowing me to see anther January, wished health and happiness to everyone I knew, then I went back to the party. Eventually the constant floating got tiresome, and I went to bed around 2am.
The day after I changed families officially. I was secretly glad the vacations were over. All that shifting and packing of bags made me kind of hazy. My second host family are relatives of my counselor (the mother is his sister) so I already felt like I wasn't meeting complete strangers. I met them Christmas Eve so I already felt somewhat comfortable. The host mother works at an elementary school twice a week. She has a very interesting background and we share basically the same taste in clothes (guess who's playing dress up in mommy's closet) The father works in Paris so he's away for half of the week. He's also a champion BOWLER. Isn't that cool :P. He goes bowling like a week when he returns home. I go sometimes. I'm trying not to be so terrible at it.
There are 3 children. 13 year old boy, 11 year old boy and a 14 year old girl. No one really close to my age except their half sister who's 20 but she doesn't live here. But it's fine, the kids are really lively. The two brothers are always fighting. The mother is always scolding them. The daughter's probably the most chilled. Maybe got that from her dad :). It happens basically on a daily basis I promise you. When that happens I try not to be in the same room. It's more than awkward.
They have a dog, 2 cats, a salamander, a rat, a rabbit, a bird and some fish. (Boy, I hope I'm not forgetting anyone) But there's hardly any noise in the house, not from them at least.
So I used to live in Villeneuve d'Ascq; in the same area as my school, and only half an hour away from Lille. Now I live in Roubaix which is an hour away from school :) So nooow I get up at 6:15/6:30, leave the house at 7, walk about 13 minutes to the tram station that goes on for about +20 minutes, walk to the bus stop; the ride's about 16 minutes tops and I'm finally to school. My sleeping pattern is COMPLETELY irregular now. But it's ok :)
It's not as cold as it was late December early January but it's still really messed up weather. But I'm feeling in the zone these days and got in the habit of wearing shorts like I did at home. NeverMIND it's 25-32 degrees outside I've grown sick of being bundled up for most of my stay.
The French is progressinnggg. The verbs are hindering me though. But I can basically say what I need to say now. It still feels completely unnatural but I still have 4 months. 4 months wow. Time flies doesn't it? I remember the beginning so perfectly. Soon June will be here, and I'll say goodbye to this place for a long time. I'd really like to come back one day. Aside from the struggles as an exchange student the country itself is just something I can only dream of. But again with the language. Even if it's not perfected, the learning doesn't stop there. I'll continue to work on it.
For a long time I've had that desire to be bilingual. It was a phenomenon in itself to me. Now everything's sinking in, fitting perfectly into the misshapen pieces of my mind that were created in the beginning due to the language barrier.
I can't wait for the day when I can no longer say "I know a LITTLE bit of French."
"Solace my game, solace my game
It stars you
Swing wide your crane, swing wide your crane
And run me through"
The Wolves Act I and II
April 13 Journal
The reason why I haven't written in so long is because during the Easter Break loads of things have happened and I wanted to have a healthy journal entry this time.
So, going back as far as I can remember, around mid-March, there was an orientation for basically all the exchange students who lived in the north of France. This was the first one I've ever been to and it was incredibly enjoyable. I reunited with people I knew from the airport in Washington waaay back then and met some new ones too. It really burned a hole in my chest because I may not see them ever again.
We stayed in a hostel in Paris for a period of 4 days. The showers were cold and stopped every 2 minutes (THAT was fun) but they had a mildly impressive lounge room. We visited the Eiffel Tower (of course), climbed 700 stairs (what happened to the elevator? I don't know but I didn't get to use it) visited the Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame church and did some touristy shopping.
Then followed Chantilly and Versailles. The weather was chilly and still is. I’m anxiously awaiting the sun to appear out from SOMEWHERE. Then the following week my mum and sister came to visit! It was a teary reunion between my sis and I. The pride that usually prevents us from showing any affection towards each other didn’t exist then, so much that it seemed like a horrible loss than an over-joyous occasion. They stayed a week with me and my host family before leaving for the most hectic two weeks I might ever experience.
Once I left my host family, I left them for good. I left gifts behind for everyone and it was incredibly sad leaving them. I felt most comfortable there and to start over and HOPE to find that balance again is more than difficult. But I’ve met my third host family already and they seem like nice people; they are. I just hope we mesh well.
Okay, so me and my fam did a Mediterranean cruise which consisted of Greece, Italy, Croatia, Spain and the south of France. The shifting of luggage in between stops like Lille to Paris, Paris to Barcelona and Venice to Germany was incredibly tiring. In between my mother, sister and I we had 6 bags in all, each weighing 50 pounds, excluding handbags. We dragged them over cobblestones, countless of stairs, boats and metros. I’m still aching from the most recent labour but I’m happy for the opportunity to work muscles I rarely keep in shape.
Greece was my all time favourite stop (like I expected). The entire time I wished I could have done exchange there! There were more mountains than buildings and the scenery was like a dream. I really hope I have an opportunity to go back.
To my surprise I’m kind of eager to get back to France. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak a lot of French during the vacation and that sort of bugs me! I say ‘merci’ more than ‘thank you’ and I’m even trying to pick up as much phrases as I can while visiting all these countries.
At the moment I’m in Germany until Wednesday then I go back ‘home’ to France. Then in no more than 2 months this crazy ride will come to an end. I’m not sure how I feel about leaving everyone and possibly not seeing them again. I’m curious and eager about home, but I wish I could take my new friends with me. I’m already worrying about excess luggage (which I’m almost POSITIVE I have). I’m thinking about returning home in my junky Rotary blazer. I’m almost dreading the last day.
I’m curious about life from now on
“I remember it well.” -Damien Rice
June 14 Journal
So my time has finally come. In the beginning you think about leaving. But the longer it takes it seems less likely to happen. But when it does you feel like you've been cheated. I'll recall as much as I can.
My good bye lunch with Rotary; I wrote a speech in French and basically had my French friends to look at it beforehand. At the end of the lunch my counselor (who I've grown to honestly love) gave me a zoom lens as a goodbye present. A ZOOM LENS. He succeeded in being the best counselor he could've been, though his job took him all over the place, whenever I needed him he was there. And that's what's most important.
I've been crying almost every day for the past few weeks. Trying to kill that anxiety of getting on the plane again. Saying good bye to friends wasn't as painful as I thought. But I exist with something hollow in my chest that only they could fill. I remember labeling France as the 'unknown'. I had no idea what to expect. Now I don't know what to expect when I get home. It hasn't been a year yet, but I imagine a lot of things have happened, have changed without me.
My goodbye dinner with all of my host families struck me the worst. I broke down in tears saying good bye to them. Despite my shyness that threatened to create a distance between me and them over the past few months, we all managed to grow so close. I left them with good memories. I left them with a shattered heart. They know I'll miss them now if they didn't know then.
My last day, I went to the city with close friends in my class. I stayed with them until they had to go to school. I wanted our goodbyes to be as casual as possible. And it could've been. If they didn't follow me after I had already left them. The sadness that hung in the air was too much and I cried again. People who I haven't managed to talk to a lot during the year I'll miss. Each of them had their own aura that I adored. It will be hard to duplicate.
Now I'm writing this journal 3am in the morning when I'll be getting up in about 3 hours to get ready to go to the airport. Right now my mind's a blank, my eyes are itchy from all the crying, the silence is deafening. I've just been so blessed meeting others who shared the same experience as me as exchange students. I've met countless of them, from all over. I'll honestly miss them all.
I can't thank Rotary enough. It's an undescribable experience. It can be incredibly painful in the beginning. But in the end, when you master the language, create bonds, all of it becomes worth it. It becomes a part of you.
This program grants you the opportunity to be...'reborn'. No one knows you in the beginning, but you're expected, like an unborn child. You're then absorbed into a new world learning about things you never knew existed. Eventually you adjust, and behave as if you were a native. When you finally master it, you have to leave it all. Kind of like death. You leave everyone feeling sad, and they have nothing left but the memories. It may seem impossible, but eventually you learn to live without each other. It doesn't mean you let them slip away, it's just not as painful anymore.
We've marked the lives of perfect strangers. Imagine that. I have a group of people in an entirely different country, who speak a completely different language; who care for me. (<---is that good English? I don't even know anymore)
This year went by in a rush. And I'm carrying all my memories in my luggage, my blazer and my heart.
Ce n'est pas adieu.
"I'm gonna ride this plane out of your life again
I wish that I could stay, but you argue
More than this I wish, you could've seen my face
In backseats staring out, the window."
-Wake Up by Coheed and Cambria